The Volkswagen Ecoracer represents what green design is about: demonstrating that eco-efficiency doesn't mean lowering the standard on fun, style or excellence. It also suffers from a common woe: it may never make it to the market, or if it does, it will be in limited supply at a premium price. After receiving praise for the concept car shown at the Tokyo Motor Show, VW decided to show the car in action. 34 journalists from nine countries were invited to Pau, a city tucked under the Pyrenees in the southwest of France, to test drive the carbon-fiber sportscar with the 100kW (136PS) turbo diesel which sips only 3,4L/100 km (69 mpg). So how did it do and what does it promise for the future?
Reports indicate that the VW Ecoracer showed its prototype nature in its first day out in the rain...which soon found its way in past the seals on the innovative T-bar top with wings that raise up for easy entry. But this can be forgiven. After all: the top can be removed and stowed behind the seats and the windows and remaining roof structure can be converted so the coupe becomes a roadster. In a final stroke, the windscreen can be removed and replaced with a low windbreak to convert the Ecoracer to speedster. The engineers were certainly having too much fun imagining the possibilities to fuss about a few seals.
The eco-innovation lies in the lightweight body and the next generation tdi engine, which is a precursor to the VW targeted CCS (combined combustion system) engine which will mate the advantages of gas engines (low NOx, high performance) with the benefits of diesel (low CO2, great torque). While the Ecoracer may never get to the assembly line much less the finish line, the advances in carbon fiber body design and particularly in the engine development will certainly be seen in the marketplace.
Like the hybrids, this car could contribute to a new generation of driving style. The engine technology doesn't deliver the gutty roar upon which the baby-boomers will certainly reminisce to their grandkids. But that's OK because Ecoracer doesn't need a constant lead foot to keep the rolling speed: a goose is enough after which the light weight and low rolling resistance allow speed to be maintained in a coast.
Conclusions? Mixed emotions. Yet another promising design which needs a lot of progress in cost control of new technologies before it will be a viable product. Yet another promising design which will spin off the innovations which lead down the path to sustainability.